Talent trumps all now as the key factor in trades as Pistons prioritize their future

Whatever word you prefer to describe the current state of the Pistons – “rebuilding” in common parlance, “restoring” in Troy Weaver’s book – there is one unassailable truth: Personnel decisions are made in a vacuum.

You’re not much worried about how “that guy” might play with “this guy” or how the point guard who intrigues you would complement the point guard you already have. The only driving force behind personnel decisions is this: Is he better than the current occupant of his roster spot?

Let’s start there with last week’s trade that sent Svi Mykhailiuk to Oklahoma City for Hamidou Diallo. It was an example of a trade that used to be commonplace in the NBA – talent for talent – but has become increasingly less frequent in a league governed by a salary cap in which trades often are more about the contract than the player.

In this case, the money was the same and the pending restricted free agency status was the same. The qualifying offers that would make Mykhailiuk and Diallo restricted free agents this summer? The same.

So two third-year players taken two spots apart in the 2018 draft – Diallo went 45th, Mykhailiuk 47th – were exchanged for each other with the Pistons sending a future second-round pick – reportedly the 2027 pick they got from Houston, so about as painless a sweetener as it gets – to the Thunder as acknowledgment of Diallo’s better performance this season.

In a vacuum, it’s easy to see why Weaver made the deal. From a roster standpoint, it gets murkier. But in year one of a do-over, you’re a lot closer to the far left end of the trade spectrum. It’s not a complete vacuum, for sure, because Weaver drafted four kids he calls his “core four” and said last week – when asked about the trade deadline and whether he had any untouchables – that while nobody was off-limits there were “some guys that are here to stay.”

Mykhailiuk wasn’t one of them, we now know, despite the fact that the one skill set he possesses above all others – the 3-point shot – is (a) something already in short supply for the Pistons and (b) the bedrock principle of Dwane Casey’s offense.

In the short term, the trade will make it trickier for the Pistons to score points. Casey often says that in today’s game, you can’t make enough twos to keep up. It’s true. If you were limited to looking at one statistic to extrapolate the outcome of any given NBA game, you’d be best to choose 3-point output. The Pistons turned the ball over 13 fewer times than San Antonio on Monday night, yet lost by 10 points because they were outscored by 15 at the 3-point line.

Casey said after the game that Spurs coach Gregg Popovich told him it was telling how the absence of even one 3-point threat from a lineup – Wayne Ellington, the only Pistons player making more than 40 percent of his 3-point tries on any volume – affects offensive functionality.

If you wondered how serious the Pistons were about prioritizing the future over the present, the Mykhailiuk-Diallo trade should answer your question. Weaver came from Oklahoma City and it’s fair to believe it was his influence – given his preference for athletic, lengthy players who are plus defenders – that led to Diallo being routed to Oklahoma City initially.

He wasn’t all that far behind Mykhailiuk in 3-point accuracy this season – 29 percent to 33 percent – but only 14 percent of Diallo’s shots came from behind the line to 77 percent for Mykhailiuk. If you were to keep a scorecard of everything Mykhailiuk does better than Diallo and vice versa, Mykhailiuk’s side of the ledger would have one convincing vote for 3-point shooting and Diallo’s might have everything else.

It speaks to the importance of 3-point shooting that it was still a trade which only required a second-round pick six years down the road to convince Oklahoma City it was a worthwhile exchange. It also speaks to the commitment of the Pistons to the future over the present because sacrificing one of their few remaining 3-point threats could well make it tougher to win games over the season’s second half.

But Weaver clearly believes it ups the talent level of the roster. And for where the Pistons are right now on their timeline, that made it an easy call. You’ll know how much progress they’ve made if a few years down the road Weaver is willing to cede the talent edge in a trade that provides the Pistons a better roster fit.